A Decorative Rainbow Map Ottoman Tray

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About: I am a 36 year old theatrical electrician/lighting designer living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I get free time I like to make things ranging from cigar box amplifiers to stuffed Cthulhus....

I recently upgraded my life with a K40 laser. Then I upgraded the laser so I wouldn't blind or electrocute myself. One of the first projects I did with it was a laser engraved coaster of my neighborhood. Then as I browsed various laser groups I saw people using lasers to remove paint from ceramic tile. That inspiration combined with the fact that I have an ottoman not a coffee table and I knew what I had to do. Make a decorative ottoman tray! So if you are looking to celebrate pride month, some place to put things on your ottoman or couch, or just want something cool to look at come along with me on a making journey full of firsts and fun.

Step 1: What You Will Need

Here are the lists of tools and materials used in this project

Tools

  • Laser cutter/engraver (or access to one)
  • Computer
  • Table Saw
  • Miter Saw(Could be a hand saw with a miter box we just need 45 degree cuts)
  • Clamps
  • Margin trowel
  • Bucket
  • Sponge (a floating tool would probably work better but if all you have is a sponge everything looks like a nail..I think that's how that saying goes)

Materials

  • Spray paint in the colors of your choosing(I picked the colors of the six color pride flag)
  • Clear engine or exhaust enamel.
  • 3 inch by 12 inch white ceramic tiles (as many as the colors you are using)
  • Wooden underlay (I used a plywood called lauan but any thin scrap that is big enough for the number of tiles will work)
  • Nicer wood for the frame(I used some 3/4 inch red oak I had around)
  • Grout
  • Water
  • Wood Glue
  • Paper towels
  • Gloves
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (for cleaning tiles. Any degreaser that does not leave a residue will work)

Software/Websites

  • Inkscape (or other vector art program)
  • A screen capture tool. I use "Snipping Tool" because I am using Windows
  • Snazzymaps.com (you don't need an account or a Google api so never fear)
  • Whatever software you use to control your laser (I used K40 Whisperer)

Step 2: Get Your Map On!

Given my tile size and number of colors I needed enough map to cover a 12 inch by 18 inch area. To do that I was going to be doing some fancy map splicing but first I was going to need the maps. For the map image I headed over to Snazzymaps.com. Once on the snazzymaps website select the build a map option from the top bar. With that clicked a tool bar will pop out and it is time to get clicking. For the map style I search for laser then hunt down the Epilog Laser thin lines option. I think it looks the best but feel free to play with the other options. Explore and experiment I always say. With that done for the size set it so both options are 100% that way we can get the biggest captures possible on the screen. With all the looks set its time to pick a location. This can be done with specific longitude latitude coordinates or by searching your location. Since I was doing the S.F. Bay Area I searched for San Francisco. With San Francisco resplendently displayed I played around with the zoom till the map looked like I wanted. It was time to screen capture. I had to take several screen captures of the bay area in slices to have a large enough map for my ottoman tray. Up next combining our map chunks and prep for the laser with Inkscape.

If you don't want to do all the screen captures yourself I am attaching the captures I took to this step.

Step 3: Prepare for the Laser!

With screen captures in had I said goodbye to snazzymaps and hello to Inkscape. What follows is how I went from png screen captures to svg files for my laser.

The first step was to import each of the screen captures. With them imported I used the trace bitmap tool to get traced vector versions of the captures. Play around with the settings till you get something you like I found they varied by screen capture. When you convert a bitmap if you had more than two scans it spits out some grouped vectors. Ungroup them and pick the one you like the best or use the combine function to flatten the different scans into one vector. I did this until all my screen captures were vectorized. With the vectors in hand I carefully lined them up and used the combine function to make one big vector map. I then made six rectangles the size of my tiles and six rectangles the width of my tiles a height of my tile spacers. With those rectangles I lined everything up so I ended up with 6 virtual tiles with their spacing. I grouped the rectangles and sent them to the back so I could arrange my map on top of the tiles. Once I thought it looked good I made six copies of the map and used the intersect function to make my tiles. With the tiles all spaced apart I made a save file for each color tile with its file name matching the color it would be. Now that my virtual work was done for the moment it was time to prep the tiles.

Step 4: Tile Prep and Painting

Now we finally get to the physical stuff.

For the paint to adhere well to the tiles they need to be super clean. To achieve a level of clean these tiles have never known before I wiped them down with a paper towel and some isopropyl alcohol. I wore gloves to make sure after I had them wiped down i didn't get any of my finger oils on them.(Don't judge me. We all have oily fingers that is how crime scene finger print finding works.) With the tiles all clean I got to shaking spray paint cans and painting the tiles in batches by color. The goal with the spray paint is to have a nice even coat that isn't too thick. If it is uneven your laser might not get all of it off in spots and you might end up with a disaster tile I like I did on my first green tile. My trick to this is to start the spray off to the side of the tile then bring it across the tile till I am off on the other side. I do this back and forth moving my way along the tile until I have an even coating. This prevents you from having build up where you pause ever so slightly to change directions. Once you have a few different colors of tile painted you might want to stop and take an art photo of your drop cloth. I know I did. While the tiles were drying I got on making the frame for them.

Step 5: It Was a Frame Job I Tell Ya

While the paint was drying I got to making the frame for the ottoman tray. Using my table saw I cut a piece of Luaan to size for the backing. From there I cut down some scrap red oak on the miter saw with 45 degree cuts on the ends to make the outside of my frame. With the wooden pieces all cut up it was time to get them glued together. I used wood glue, clamps, and a square to make sure I had the frame just right on the wooden backing. I left the glue to dry overnight. While it was drying I started using the laser to remove the paint from the tiles.

Step 6: Time to Play With Lasers and by Play I Mean Use Responsibly

Now that the tiles were dry enough to go in the laser it was time to get it ready. I got my ice packs from the freezer and deposited them in the water cooling bucket of my laser. While the water was cooling down. (There's a reason the K40 lasers are inexpensive) I fired up my laser control software K40 whisperer. In the software I adjusted my image location. Getting things lined up on the K40 can be difficult so I used a vector rectangle the size of my tile to just a jig out of cardboard and noted the x and y positions. With the jig ready to go I placed a tile in the laser and adjusted the power to 36%. (The K40 can't control the power with the software only the speed.) I set the laser speed to 200mm/s(thought I don't think it moves that fast.) I opened up the advanced settings for raster controls and deselected halftone dithering (the stock K40 can't do grey scale so it uses halftone dithering just like old dot matrix printers) Since we are doing black and white there is no need for it. Then I selected to raster engrave from the bottom up. I like to do this because if there is smoke staining it happens to the part I am about to burn off instead of to the exposed tile. I repeated the process with each tile. I ran into trouble with an uneven coat of paint on the green tile so I had to do another one. Included for your viewing pleasure is a photo of my failure tile.

Step 7: Get Your Grout Out

Now thanks to the power of the internet you unlike myself did not need to wait a day for the glue to dry and laser etching to be done. So lets get on with laying this tile. I myself had never laid tile before this project so I watched a super short video on youtube and was good to go. The gist of it is you use your margin trowel's toothy side to make lines in the grout that all go the same direction evenly across your backing. So armed with this new knowledge I followed the directions on the box of grout mixing water into my grout until it had a consistency like cake icing and took a ten minute break as the cardboard box gods demanded. After my break I mixed again without water and applied my grout to the board as I had seen in the video. With the grout down I worked the tiles into position using spacing crosses to make sure my tiles were spaced evenly. With that done I removed the spacers and got to work writing this instructable after all I had 24 hours to kill before I could finish the project... 24 hours later the grout was dry and holding the tiles in place! I then used the clear high temp engine block spray paint to seal everything and protect the paint job from hot items. Once that paint was dry and cured I mixed up some more grout and using a sponge filled in all the gaps. I followed the instructions on the box leaving excess grout on the surface for 15 minutes and then used a damp not wet sponge to wipe off the excess grout. With the gaps filled in it was another 24 hour waiting party.

Step 8: Enjoy and Admire Your New Ottoman Tray

This project had a lot of waiting for various things to dry but now that it is done and I get to use my ottoman tray. Thanks to the high temp glossy coating this tray can also be used as a trivet! If you've come this far with me you now have an awesome ottoman tray that can also be used as a trivet. When the tray is not in use it can be wall art. Thank you for taking the time to check out my instructable and my ottoman tray. If you make your own I'd love to see it or if you have any suggestions of cities for future map based projects please feel free to share them with me. Happy Pride and making!

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